Paula Scher (class of '84)

Paula Scher (class of '84)

I was one of those quiet, diligent students who worked hard, but said little in class. In the fall of 1983, my portfolio teacher at SVA, Paula Scher, wasn't having any of that; she actually asked me what I thought, and expected a response--out loud. That smoke-filled class changed my life.
Looking back, I think I did some of the best work of my college days in Paula's class; not because I was soooo talented, but because I looked really hard at what she did and tried to emulate the wit and energy of her work. Okay, I was ripping her off. We all were.

I learned to love giant wood type in Paula's class, and a reverence for all things nostalgic and whimsical. Paula made design fun, taught us dirty words in Yiddish, and had huge, uncensored opinions about everything. It was mesmerizing to sit near her Parliaments. She was blunt when the work wasn't good enough, but not mean, and challenged us to become better designers. Most importantly, Paula taught me to speak up. I'll never be as sharp and witty as her, but I know how to voice my opinion now, and can clearly trace the roots of that skill back to her class. Catholic school taught me to sit still; Paula's class taught me to open up.

Paula Scher is one of the people I pretty much owe my career to. She helped me get my first job at Vintage Books, put in a good word for me at The Boston Globe, and called Fred Woodward on my behalf when I wanted to work for him at Rolling Stone. She supported me when I moved to SpotCo seven years ago, and said matter of factly, "That's the perfect place for you," when I was all wobbly at the beginning. I figured if Paula thought it was a good move, that was good enough for me. It was a turning point.

Did any of you have Paula Scher as a teacher? What do you remember most?


  • Bashan Aquart



    I remember one windy Spring day, just after portfolio review, Paula needed some help walking the dogs back to her place while carrying several folders. As soon as we stepped foot outside of Pentagram, Mattie runs toward the nearest fire hydrant, dragging Paula behind her at top speed. The wind was blowing so hard, our thin jackets looked as if they were permanently fusing to our bodies. Before Mattie lets one go, Paula pretends to be frantically looking for a poop bag until she reaches out to me and yells "Quick! Toss me your portfolio!"

    Wind, paper, and poop blowing all over the place and we're cracking up while Mattie finishes and looks up at us like we're crazy.

    Since then, I've worked extremely hard to produce my best work and still the work has only gotten good enough to poop on ;) Being serious about the work without taking yourself too seriously was a huge lesson for me and I have a classic one liner to keep me right there. Thanks Paula! (laughing as I end this note)

  • Grant Glas

    Paula as an instructor would have been a dream come true.

    Her video, "Great design is serious (not solemn)" contains remarkable insight. Very inspiring for a young designer like myself.

    Love her "Paris", acrylic painting. So cool.

  • Syndi Becker

    I audited 2 teachers for my senior portfolio class.

    They had very different styles.

    Upon entering the first classroom, I noticed the teacher was articulate and polished. Her work was beautiful and she seemed like she'd be patient and kind. She spoke in a sweet low voice. It seemed like it would be a pleasant semester.

    I went to check out the second:

    The class was seated when Paula Scher entered the room in a big puff of smoke. Her work was beautiful and I found her energy invigorating. She stated her expectations and curriculum projects. She was straightforward, didn't mince words or try to make anything sound flowery. It was more than a little scary, but this was the teacher I wanted. I knew she'd force me to challenge myself and to become a better designer. Needless to say over time I did.

    Her critiques were honest and we learned to speak to—and defend the decisions we made as designers. This turned out to be great training for "the real world".

    Paula has always been supportive of me throughout my career. I have turned to her for advice many times and can count on an honest appraisal. Her work continues to surprise and inspire me. I owe so much to Paula Scher.

  • Mia Song

    I've haven't had the opportunity to be in a class taught by Paula but it is one of my top ten wishes. Her posters for the Public Theatre have been burned into my consciousness though and I remember seeing her work when I arrived to New York City on buses whizzing past in Times Square. In my mind, it was a signal, that here was a place that was so alive and exciting. Her work represents to me how "kinetic" design and typography can be.

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